The Romanian Athenaeum

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The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

The Romanian Athenaeum

Visit Bucharest’s emblematic building

Built more than 130 years ago, the palace of the Romanian Athenaeum is not only one of the symbols of Bucharest but also of the entire country.

Now, the Athenaeum represents the Romanian National Philharmonic Hall hosting every week important classical music concerts and conferences. The Palace also witnessed major political and cultural episodes that modeled the history of Romania.

In the next lines, we will tell you the story of this emblematic building in Bucharest, its importance for the Romanians but also how you can visit it.

Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

1. Location

The Romanian Athenaeum is located in the city center along the famous Calea Victoriei Boulevard. When it was constructed, the same place was considered actually as being outside the city.

The Palace of the Athenaeum has a unique circular shape, and it attracts many curious eyes thanks to the special touch of the architectural style.

The Athenaeum is surrounded by important buildings like the historic Athenee Palace Hotel (today Hilton Hotel), the National Romanian Art Museum hosted in the former Royal Palace, the equestrian statue of King Carol I, the University Library, and of course, the Revolution Square. This part of Bucharest is wide and special as it includes elements from different stages of Romanian history.

2. The Romanian Athenaeum Cultural Society or how the story began

The story of the Romanian Athenaeum starts with the foundation of the cultural society called, well, there is no surprise here, “the Romanian Athenaeum.” This happened in Iasi in 1860, the former capital of the Moldavian state. After, 1864 the society moved the headquarters to Bucharest.

“The Romanian people cannot go forward without science, knowledge, and art because during the times we live in; only the enlightened nations can aspire and reach the real fulfillment.”

Starting from this idea of spreading knowledge for free among the Romanians, the Romanian Athenaeum Society was born. Representatives of the Romanian intellectual class, educated in France, organized and held Public Conferences in front of their curious and varied audience.

Initially, they were known as public courses, and the first ones were held near today’s Cişmigiu Garden Park, having the park’s benches as seats for the public. It happened in 1865 in front of 500 people, more than half being women.

The Society decided that an emblematic construction was needed to host all the Conferences. This is how the wish of building what we know today as the Palace of the Romanian Athenaeum was born.

3. “Give 1 Leu for the Ateneu,” or what we call now a catchy fundraising motto

The construction was possible also thanks to ordinary people who paid for lottery tickets worth 1 Leu each. Back then, the fundraising motto was on everybody’s lips, and finally, the amount needed was raised.

Maybe you have noticed the peculiar shape of the Romanian Athenaeum: circular central compartment.  Not many people know that here there used to function an American Circus that burned and went bankrupt. The foundations of this circus were preserved, giving the Romanian Athenaeum the circular shape we can all admire today.

Albert Galleron, a French architect, was the one who designed the Romanian Athenaeum.

The building is dominated by a large dome adorned at the entrance with beautiful elements that recreate the entrance to a Roman-Greek Ancient temple. The façade consists of 8 ionic columns of similar proportions to the columns of the Erechteion temple on the Acropolis in Greece and 5 medallions in the mosaic representing five great rulers of the country: Neagoe Basarab, Alexandru cel Bun, King Carol I of Romania, Vasile Lupu, and Matei Basarab.

Around the great dome of the edifice, there can be seen, carved in the wall, the names of known scholars.

4. Interior of the Romanian Athenaeum

As you step inside the Athenaeum, you are overwhelmed by the Great Entrance Hall, which reminds you of the interior of Ancient churches. This hall is adorned by simple stucco columns and 4 marble monumental staircases.

The Great Concert Hall is by far the most impressive one, and it is full of symbols. There are 794 seats for the audience, and the acoustics is one of the best in Bucharest. The ceiling is extraordinary with beautiful carvings and the names of important study subjects through which science, art, and culture are being spread to the country.

The main piece is the 70m long and 3m wide fresco painted in 1933 by Costin Petrescu. This recreates 25 representative scenes from Romania’s history: the Romanians’ ancestors (the Dacians and the Romans), the battle with the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for power and the unification of the Romanian provinces, the war of Independence, World War I, the Great Unification and the Royal family of Romania. The fresco ends with the picture of the last 2 kings of Romania: Kind Carol II and his son, King Michael I – On a modern city background, Carol II, the king of culture, accompanied by the heir to the throne, the Great Voivode Mihai, descends among the people to patronize science, literature, art, agricultural work, and industry. “

the Romanian Athenaeum - The Entrance Hall

During World War II, this last scene is covered with another picture. The painter was asked to remove from the fresco the image with King Carol II, who abdicated and became undesirable. Instead of the former king, Costin Petrescu painted the allegory of the peasants representing the large Romanian provinces: The Old Kingdom, Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bucovina.

During the Communist times, the fresco was covered with red cloth for 2 decades, and only in 1966 was it uncovered and left to be admired by the people.

Around the great dome of the edifice, there can be seen, carved in the wall, the names of known scholars.


5. George Enescu Music Festival

Nowadays, we all refer to the Romanian Athenaeum as “the musical building of Bucharest.”

Besides the traditional classical music concerts and the Cultural Conferences, the Romanian Athenaeum is home to one of the most important International Music Festivals: George Enescu International Festival and Competition.

Held in honor of the celebrated Romanian composer George Enescu, this event is the biggest classical music festival and classical international competition in Romania and one of the biggest in Eastern Europe.

The first festival was organized in 1958. The highlights of the event were Bach’s Concerto’s Concerto for Two Violins with Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh as soloists and staging of Enescu’s sole opera, Œdipe, with Constantin Silvestri conducting.

Over the years, at the festival organized at the Romanian Athenaeum and the Radio Hall, high-prestigious orchestras and musicians performed: the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, the Stockholm Philharmonic, directed by Sergiu Celibidache, and the London Philharmonic, directed by Sir John Barbirolli. Other musical personalities who have participated throughout the festival were Joseph Palnciek, Claudio Arrau, Arthur Rubinstein, David Oistrakh, Kurt Masur, Boris Berezovski, Antonio Menses, Jose Van Dam, Lawrence Foster.

Now, the festival takes place every 2 years in Bucharest for the whole month of September. You can find on the official website here more information about the festival and the concerts.

George Enescu

6. How to visit the Romanian Athenaeum?

The Romanian Athenaeum can be visited every day, depending on the rehearsal program and the concert schedule. We usually recommend to our travelers to go there in the first part of the day. The ticket is 10 Lei per adult, and you get to see the Main Entrance Hall with the monumental staircases and the Great Concert Hall. You can take as many photos as you wish inside, as there are no additional fees for this.

Or even better, check here the calendar with the concerts and book your ticket. You will not regret it for sure.

You can also have a look over our tours and enjoy a full-day Bucharest city tour. Our tour guides will be happy to present you with the story of this wonderful building and visit it with you.

On our website, you will also find suggestions about what else you can experience in Bucharest: 10 free things you can do in Bucharest and First-Timer’s Guide to Bucharest.

Best selling tours:

Treasures of Romania Tour

Treasures of Romania & Bulgaria Tour

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Valentina Marinescu

Travel is my first name. If my passion for traveling involves a bike, it's even better. And if the day ends with a good book and a dry red glass of wine, then I live in a paradise.

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